by Marv Lachman

R. AUSTIN FREEMAN – The Eye of Osiris. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1911. First US edition: Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1912. Reprinted many times, including Carroll & Graf, paperback, 1986. Available online here.

   Carroll & Graf has logically followed its publication of R. Austin Freeman’s first Dr. Thorndyke novel, The Red Thumb Mark, with the second in that series, The Eye of Osiris. (There is an as yet unreprinted collection of short stories, John Thorndyke’s Cases, which is sandwiched in the Freeman chronology by these novels.)

   In Osiris the detective’s Watson (a doctor named Jarvis) is relegated to the sidelines, and another young-doctor-in-love narrates. We get such wonderful corny passages as “Reverently I folded her in my arms, gathered her to the heart that worshiped her utterly. Henceforth no sorrows could hurt us, no misfortune vex, for we should walk hand in hand on our earthly pilgrimage and find the way all too short,” and “…the light of her love went with me and turned the dull street into a path of glory.”

   Not to worry. These sections of purple prose do not detract (they actually provide comic relief) from a well-plotted mystery about the disappearance, in the heart of London, of a noted Egyptologist. Freeman combines a considerable narrative gift with detailed knowledge of medicine (skeleton bones keep popping up all over England) and many aspects of the law.

   There are two legal proceedings which are described with delicious satire. I found myself laughing aloud, though this is not the reaction I expected in approaching R Austin Freeman. The solution is ingenious, though it helps if you’ve been to medical school if you want to compete with Dr. Thorndyke in arriving at it.

   Unfortunately, the denouement is dragged out too long, contributing to this book being a whopping 344 pages.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.